Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Weight Watchers" by Thomas McGuane

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New the hopes that it balances out my otherwise neanderthal tastes. 

Issue: Nov. 4, 2013

Story: "Weight Watchers"

Author: Thomas McGuane

Plot: A young-to-early-middled aged man's overweight father comes to stay with him while he's on a break from his mother, who has insisted the father lose weight or not come home. The visit causes the young man to re-examine his parent's occasionally-functional marriage and the ways his parents forced him to take on a lot of their emotional baggage. The young man describes his father as a ruddy, man's man type and his mother as solidly bourgeois and though they gave him a comfortable enough life, he is determined to stay single and never get emotionally involved with anyone.

Review: Kind of an odd turn for Thomas McGuane, although the story is still set in Montana and features a character who is outcast or broken in a comical way. The main character is someone whose situation would seem otherwise completely normal, but something within himself, some obstruction in his personality, will not give way and therefore he remains stuck. The main character, in that sense, is pitiable.

What I think is most interesting here is the term "weight watchers." This literally refers to the father's need to reduce his weight. But it also refers to the way that the son has determined to watch his "emotional weight" by never getting romantically involved with anyone.

It's a thought-provoking message and it probably describes the plight of a lot of people who come from seemingly upright, functional backgrounds, and yet choose not to get married and/or have children. It takes a lot of courage to love someone and to have children, but at the same time it also takes courage to go through life alone without those relationships. However, it would seem that the latter choice(s) carries with it a higher emotional cost.

There are some brief moments where the McGuane shines through here, but to me it seems like a rushed job. It doesn't have the carefully-wrought characters or the poetic quality that I'm used to from McGuane. I wasn't crazy about his last NYer story either, and I'm less crazy about this one. There's a good kernel of something here, I know that. But it strikes me that the story would've benefited from a few more times through the wringer.


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…